Importance of Altitude on Coffee taste
Now it's everywhere. On every trendy new coffee shop or the label of every local coffee bag. "The beans of this coffee were planted at 1500m altitude". So what? Does that mean my coffee will be better? The higher the better? Is it that important?
In this article, we're going to explain how altitude affects the development of coffee beans and how that affects the final flavour. After reading this, you'll understand what altitude is better for the kind of coffee you want.
You probably already knew this, but the higher you go, the less concentrated is oxygen in the air. There's simply less of it. That means breathing will be harder for animals, human hikers or even plants. Plants including coffee.
What happens when an organism is having troubles breathing oxygen in? Some of their cells might start trying to get energy using different processes that don't require oxygen (this is called anaerobic respiration). Even your muscles do that when you are working out hard enough.
Before getting harvested, coffee beans are found as seeds, inside of the coffee fruit. When oxygen levels are low, this fruit starts doing anaerobic respiration. Doing this has the consequence of releasing some extra chemical components (like acid lactic) that can be quite acidic. This acid-like chemical is in contact with the bean, roughing out its surface and making it more porose.
Why is this relevant? Because a porose surface works like a sponge. It takes in all the flavour and aroma of whatever surrounds it. So the coffee bean captures all the fruity and sweet aroma of the coffee fruit.
And that's pretty much it. The higher you climb, the less oxygen will be in the air. And less oxygen will cause even more anaerobic respiration, which means even more 'fruity' coffee.
There's another factor by which temperature affects coffee development. And that's temperature.
As with every fruit, the coffee fruit will ripe very fast if you let it under the full sun at a high temperature. That'll produce a lot of coffee very quickly. But fast ripening doesn't let enough time for the fruit to develop complex flavours. It just grows and bursts in no time. That - of course - affects the flavour captured by the coffee bean. So a coffee grown at high temperatures will let you with what it's called "Earthy" coffee. Which is a polite way of saying "bland" or "dull" coffee.
So altitude is important because the higher you go, the cooler the temperature gets. Combined with the lower oxygen concentration, higher altitude yields a coffee fruit that has gotten enough time to develop complex flavours, while the coffee bean is porous enough to capture that complex flavour.